Opening up new possibilities to promote and protect indigenous peoples’ rights

For Andrei Khariuchi becoming a human rights advocate was inevitable.

The son of a lawyer and an anthropologist, his parents were both deeply involved in defending the rights of indigenous peoples. Khariuchi, a 34-year-old human rights advocate, is a member of the Nenets indigenous people in the Yamal-Nenets autonomous region in northern Russia.

He was recently in Geneva to take part in the 2016 UN Human Rights Office Indigenous Fellowship programme. This Fellowship aims to strengthen the knowledge of indigenous peoples’ representatives of the UN system so they can resort to international Human Rights norms and mechanisms in their advocacy efforts to protect and promote the rights of their communities, said Estelle Salavin, who manages the programme. Since its start in 1997, more than 360 indigenous persons have taken part in the training programme.

“What is the most rewarding is to see former indigenous fellows putting into practice what they have learnt by actively engaging with human rights mechanisms or pursuing follow-up activities back home to advance the rights of their communities nationally and internationally,” she said.

Khariuchi said he joined the programme to “learn more about international human rights law and the UN system and see how it could apply to indigenous communities in the northern Siberia region.”  He said he wants to use this new knowledge to help fill the gaps in the Russian legislation with respect to indigenous peoples’ rights.

Climate change is one of the biggest challenges the Nenets are facing, Khariuchi said.

“Apart from hunting and gathering, the community has more than 500,000 deer which they breed,” he said. “However, a heat wave followed by a cold snap in the winter of 2014 resulted in the formation of an ice crust, which led to the death of many deer. This had some disastrous implications for many indigenous peoples, who were left without livelihoods and had to leave their traditional villages.”

“Indigenous peoples of the North have a number of additional problems including unemployment, poor living conditions, and the reduction of reindeer pastures. In recent years, the legislation of the Yamalo-Nenets autonomous region is being actively developed with the aim to improve the lives of indigenous peoples”, Khariuchi added.

Being an Indigenous Fellow has also sparked media interest in the region.

I have already been invited to participate in television shows on the regional television to share information about my experience in Geneva,” he said. “I am also going to write a couple of articles for regional and local newspapers.”

Back in Russia, Khariuchi said he will collaborate with the governmental authorities responsible for dealing with indigenous peoples to organise educational and informative sessions to share what he learnt.

“The fellowship provides new knowledge and opens up a lot of new possibilities,” he said. “That is why it is very important that the fellowship is known widely. Particularly among young indigenous activists, who should participate and benefit from this fellowship.”

The story is one of a series to celebrate The International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples on 9 August 2016. This year the celebration is devoted to the right to education, which is protected by a number of international human rights instruments.

10 August 2016

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